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Mitzvot are like clear crystals. A crystal may appear blue or yellow, depending on how the light strikes it, but the crystal itself has no color at all. The hue exists only in the eye of the beholder, depending on his viewpoint.
There are two ways to look at each mitzva, subjectively and objectively. Subjectively, each mitzva has a special quality to it. Matza on Passover, hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana, wearing tefilin and giving charity; each mitzva has its own particular reason and meaning, radiating with a different light.
But objectively, the best reason for doing a mitzva is that it has no reason. At its purest level, a mitzva expresses nothing but our commitment to G-d, plain and simple. In this respect, all mitzvot equally express faith, obedience and commitment. We observe because we are so commanded, regardless of the reason. "I'm doing this just for you" is the greatest expression of pure, unadulterated love.
Both aspects of a mitzva are important, and both have advantages. Something that is emotionally satisfying is easier to assimilate within ourselves. Yet, explanations by apologetics detract from the essence of pure identification with G-d. The love becomes conditional and subjective.
Like seasoning, too much reasoning is in bad taste. "I love my son; he's a great tennis player." But what if he wasn't great? Rather than enhancing the love between father and son, the relationship is amiss if it must resort to reason. Love should be a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion.
"It feels good to help the poor." "I like Shabbat because gefilte fish tastes great." "It's nice to take a day off and rest." "Kosher is healthier." The good feeling may make a mitzva more palatable, but it also dilutes its essence. We don't follow the commandment per se, but pursue our selfish personal interests and ulterior motives.
These two aspects are referred to in the verse from this week's Ethics of the Fathers, "Make your will as His...Void your will..."
Do not say, "I hate bacon," but rather, "I'd enjoy eating it, but my Heavenly Father has forbidden me" (Talmud).
From Blossoms, by Rabbi Israel Rubin.
This week's Torah portion, Behaalotcha, is read after the holiday of Shavuot, on which we celebrated the giving of the Torah. It begins with the command to Aaron the High Priest to light the menora in the Holy Temple. Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explains that Aaron's job was to kindle the lamps "until the flame was able to rise up by itself." The lights of the menora had to be self-sustaining.
This command is symbolic of the task of every Jew, each of whom is likened to a menora, whose function is to illuminate the world around him. A menora consists of two parts--the candles or flasks of oil which are actually lit, and the base into which they are placed. The Jew is also made up of two such components--the holy Jewish soul, and the physical body the soul inhabits. The Torah states, "The soul of man is the candle of G-d." The corporeal body is only the vessel from which the Jewish soul may shine forth to illuminate the physical world.
Just as Aaron kindled the lamps in the Holy Temple, so does G-d light the Jewish spark within every Jew. G-d sends the soul down into this world and ignites it, giving it the power to illuminate and to sustain itself.
Yet G-d does not want man to rely solely on the Divine boost he gets from above. The world was created imperfect, for man to perfect through his actions. G-d grants us free will to utilize our talents and abilities to this end. The service of the Jew is to imbue his surroundings with holiness and G-dliness through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot.
But how can we claim that our actions are performed of our own initiative, when the initial "spark" is "activated" by G-d? This problem is resolved by the Talmudic dictum which states that "assistance has no substance." Although G-d "assists" the individual by animating the inert, physical body with a G-dly soul, this in no way bestows an advantage when it comes to the moral choices a person must make. Man's job is to bridge the distance between the spiritual aid he receives from above, and the lowly physical world. This is done by converting that G-dly energy into concrete, positive deeds.
G-d created the world in such a way that only man, through his actions, can uncover the spirituality hidden within. G-d lights the menora in every Jew to enable him to bring holiness into his own personal life and to positively influence his surroundings, until those sparks are also self-sustaining. This process will ultimately reach its culmination with the coming of Moshiach and the final Redemption, speedily in our days.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Chanie Alperowitz
Bournemouth is a beautiful sea resort where many visitors from all over England and even Europe come for vacation.
The activities in the Bournemouth Chabad House are always fun and exciting. We are constantly looking for innovative ways to spread the Rebbe's directives and messages.
When the Rebbe spoke about reviving the mitzva of kiddush levana--sanctifying the moon--we decided we would make an evening boat cruise to introduce this mitzva. We chose a boat ride since the short ceremony is said outdoors under the open sky when the full or almost full moon can be seen.
The boat cruise was scheduled for the 12th of Tammuz, 5752--July, 1992. My husband wrote to the Rebbe, asking for a blessing for a successful event and that it be a clear night. After all, in England the chances of having a clear sky were slim.
We rented a boat to seat a hundred people, and began selling tickets. But somehow, everyone was already busy for that Sunday night and we were having a difficult time finding people to commit themselves.
Six days before the event, we had only three reservations. So, reluctantly, we called the boat company, the speaker and the three people who had bought the tickets and cancelled the event.
Just 15 minutes after my husband had made the last call to cancel the cruise--he came to tell me, "The boat cruise is on!"
I asked him why the change of mind all of a sudden.
He held a fax in his hand for me to see and said, "Look, an answer from the Rebbe, "bracha v'hatzlacha--blessing and success!"
We called back the boat company. "The cruise is on," we told them.
We called back the speaker. "You're on," we told him.
We called back the three people who had bought tickets. "The trip is on. We have a bracha from the Rebbe."
The excitement was unbelievable. The three people said, "Well, if you have a blessing, we will also try and sell tickets."
My husband called a chazan (cantor) and a musician from London to come along too, and preparations were now in full swing.
The boat cruise was still just six days away. And although the tickets didn't seem to be selling quickly, with the Rebbe's blessing, we were going ahead.
The morning of the cruise dawned and the weather forecast predicted thick clouds all day and a thunderstorm in the evening--a positively disastrous forecast for kiddush levana, since you actually have to be outdoors and see the moon while saying the special prayers. But the forty people who had by now bought tickets bravely came to the harbor. We boarded the boat at Poole Quay. The boat departed, the sun set, and a cloudy sky completely hid the moon.
Our speaker spoke, the chazan sang, the musician played and the crowd was very supportive. But still no moon!
Nevertheless, at least it wasn't raining and the people were having a good time. We served refreshments and sang Chabad-Chasidic songs.
Once it was dark, my husband began telling a miraculous story. One cloudy night, people stood outside of "770" to say the kiddush levana prayers, and waited for the sky to clear. As everyone waited, the Rebbe related a story about Reb Meir of Premishlan and how, in just such a situation, he waved his handkerchief at the clouds and they moved away, revealing the full moon. The Rebbe asked if perhaps, there was someone in the crowd who could do the same thing. One chasid boldly suggested that the Rebbe do it. The Rebbe left the group and went inside to his office. Seconds later, the clouds parted to reveal the bright moon. The chasidim wondered to each other if the Rebbe waved a handkerchief in the solitude of his room. Another moment passed and the Rebbe joined the crowd and said kiddush levana together with the ecstatic crowd.
Expectantly, as my husband finished the story, everyone on the boat looked up. And would you believe it? The clouds actually parted, and there was a beautiful, clear moon! There was such cheering on the boat.
The captain stopped the boat, we all stood up, and never have I seen such a kiddush levana! The dancing, the prayers, singing "David Melech Yisrael," the electric atmosphere. The whole boat was literally shaking with the excitement.
When the moon came out, it was not only the sky that was clear. It was also entirely clear to everyone that the Rebbe's blessing had brought the evening's miraculous occurrence.
A few days after the boat cruise, we were told that the local Bnai Brith youth group had scheduled a beach party for the same evening. After their party they said it was good that they had scheduled it for the same night as our boat cruise, for having it on the same night as Chabad had assured them of good weather.
THE CHOFETZ CHAIM ON AWAITING MOSHIACH
Throughout his long life, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, the famed Chofetz Chaim, strove to prepare himself--and his generation--for Moshaich. He wrote many essays about the redemption, including the well-know Tzipita LeYeshua--Awaiting Redemption. This book is a pricleless collection of writings, culled from his many works and letters, as well as a trasnlation of Tzipita LeYeshua in its entirety. Translated into English by Rabbi Moshe Miller.
Targum Press/Feldheim Publishers - Spring Valley, NY
THE WOLF SHALL LIE WITH THE LAMB
Rabbi Shmuel Boteach
The Wolf Shall Lie with the Lamb: The Messiah in Hasidic Thought offers an exposition in English of the important pillar of Jewish belief: the coming of Moshiach. Rabbi Boteach, director of the Chabad House of Oxford University, clarifies the belief in Moshiach and a clear analysis of the resurrection of the dead, in terms that can be grasped by both layperson and scholar. The book is largely based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Jason Aronson, Inc. - Northvale, NJ
THE NATURE OF THE SOUL
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
10 Kislev, 5714 (1954)
Our Sages said that "each and every soul was in the presence of His Divine Majesty before coming down to this earth," and that "the souls are hewn from under the Seat of Glory." These sayings emphasize the essential nature of the soul, its holiness and purity, and its being completely divorced from anything material and physical; the soul itself, by its very nature, is not subject to any material desires or temptations, which arise only from the physical body and "animal soul."
Nevertheless, it was the Creator's Will that the soul--which is "truly a `part' of the Divine Above," should descend into the physical and coarse world and be confined within, and united with, a physical body for scores of years, in a state which is absolutely repulsive to its very nature. All this, for the purpose of a Divine mission which the soul has to fulfill: to purify and "spiritualize" the physical body and the related physical environment by permeating them with the Light of G-d, so as to make this world an abode for the Shechina [Divine Presence]. This can be done only through a life of Torah and mitzvot.
When the soul fulfills this mission, all the transient pain and suffering connec-ted with the soul's descent and life on this earth are not only justified, but infinitely outweighed by the great reward and everlasting bliss the soul enjoys thereafter.
From the above one can easily appreciate the extent of the tragedy of disregarding the soul's mission on earth. For in doing so one condemns the soul to a term of useless suffering not compensated for, nor nullified by that everlasting happiness which G-d had intended for it. Even where there are brief moments of religious activity in the study of the Torah and the practice of the mitzvot, it is sad to contemplate how often such activity is tinted by the lack of real enthusiasm and inner joy, not realizing that these are the activities which justify existence.
Aside from missing the vital point through failure of taking advantage of the opportunity to fulfill G-d's Will, thus forfeiting the everlasting benefits to be derived therefrom, it is contrary to sound reason to choose that side of life which accentuates the enslavement and degradation of the soul, while rejecting the good that is inherent in it, namely, the great ascent that is to come from the soul's descent.
It will now become eminently clear what our Sages meant when they said, "No man commits a sin unless he was stricken with temporary insanity." No profound thinking is required to realize that since "life is compulsory," and since the soul which is a "part" of the Divine Above is compelled to descend into "a frame of dust and ashes," the proper thing to do is to make the most of the soul's sojourn on earth. Only a life, in which every aspect is permeated by the Torah and mitzvot, makes this possible.
It is also abundantly clear that since G-d, who is the essence of goodness, compels the soul to descend from its "sublime heights to the lowest depths," for the purpose of the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of the mitzvot--how great is the value of Torah and mitzvot!
Furthermore, the descent of the soul for the purpose of ascent shows that there is no other way to attain the objective except through the soul's descent to this earth. If there were an easier way, G-d would not compel the soul to descend from the sublime heights of the Seat of Glory down to this nether world, the lowest of all worlds.
For only here, in the lowest depths, can the soul attain its highest ascent, higher even than the angels, and as our Sages say, "The righteous precede the foremost angels."
Reflecting upon the greatness of the Torah and mitzvot, specifically pertaining to this life, reflecting also that the Torah and mitzvot are the only means of attaining the perfection of the soul and the fulfillment of the Divine purpose, one will experience a sense of real joy at his fate and destiny, despite the many difficulties and hardships, from within and without, which are inevitable on this earth. Only in this way can one live up to the injunction: "Serve G-d with joy," which the Baal Shem Tov made one of the foundations of his teachings, and which is expounded at length in Chabad by its founder, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, in the Tanya.
Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi (Judah the Prince) was the son of the Nasi Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel II, a descendant of King David. He occupies a singular position in Jewish history. A remarkable scholar, teacher, and communal leader, his crowning achievement was the compilation of the Mishna, the basic work of Jewish scholarship which formed the basis of the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch. His court was extremely lavish, but the extravagance was only to preserve the honor of the patriarchate in the eyes of the Romans. He was known to have lived abstemiously, devoting all his energy to Torah and communal welfare.
Why, some people wonder, does there have to be so much thought, talk and action on the subject of Moshiach and the Redemption. Moshiach is something that's going to happen in the future; what does it have to do with my life?
Looking at a discussion by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, in his main work, Tanya, is a good way to begin answering some of these questions.
In the Tanya, it says, "It is well known that the Messianic Era, and especially the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, is the fulfillment and culmination of the creation of the world, for which purpose it was originally created." This is based on the statement of our Sages that the purpose of the creation of this world is that "G-d desired to have an abode in the lower world."
The entire reason for creation is that G-d "desired" that this world be a dwelling place for Him, a place where He could dwell and His essence could be fully revealed.
G-d created a world where spiritual darkness dwells and evil exists for Jews to turn the dark into light and allow the good to overpower the evil. This is accomplished through Torah and mitzvot, by means of which a person brings a spiritual, G-dly light into this world.
This is the entire purpose of our lives--to brighten the world and make a dwelling place for G-d. In every part of the world and for the thousands of years that Jews have been doing mitzvot and studying Torah they have been bringing light into the world and making a dwelling place for Him.
When will the world come to its ultimate purpose and fulfillment? In the Messianic Age. Currently, we do not see the light that we are bringing into the world and the dwelling place that we are making for G-d. For our eyes are closed and we do not see the spiritual influence that our actions have on this physical world. But when our work arrives at its completion and fulfillment, and the world is ready for G-d to dwell in it, then Moshiach will come and everything will be revealed.
Therefore, one who understands and contemplates the purpose of the creation of the world and the purpose of our fulfillment of mitzvot and Torah study must be filled with the desire and longing for the coming of Moshiach when the culmination of all of our generations of work will be complete.
Many years ago in Dubrovno there was a boy named Feivish Henech, who was a G-d-fearing lad. Although he was not a great student, he nevertheless devoted practically all his time to reciting Psalms, and this he did in the sweetest voice imaginable.
Feivish Henech was a beautiful-looking boy and his voice was a pleasure to listen to. When he sang the Psalms of praise, his voice rang with joy, so that everyone listening to him felt their beings permeated with gladness. But when Feivish recited the Psalms which were outpourings of the soul to the Alm-ghty, beseeching Him to help His troubled people, Feivish Henech's voice assumed such depths of melancholy and distress, that everyone felt full of sorrow and sadness.
When he reached the age of sixteen, he suddenly took it into his head to live differently from everyone. He spent literally every moment of his life reciting the Psalms. And in order that no one should deter him from his purpose, he stopped up his ears so that no sound of the outside world should reach him. He covered up his eyes so that no sight should disturb him, as he could recite the Psalms and prayers by heart. He ate hardly anything, fasting all day and only partaking of a crust of bread and drink of water at night. On Shabbos or Yom Tov he ate white bread, instead of the darker bread, and in addition drank a glass of wine. One may have expected to see him become a physical wreck under the circumstances, but to everyone's surprise he became, if anything, even stronger and more handsome.
Naturally, he could not go unnoticed, and he was talked about all around the area of Dubrovno. When word of this strange Jewish hermit reached the ears of a certain anti-Semitic Polish squire, he decided he would have some sport with the Jew. He sent one of his servants to Dubrovno to bring Feivish back, but when the man heard that Feivish was a holy man whom it was impossible to approach, he fled in terror. When his master heard his story, he flew into a deadly rage and ordered the poor fellow to be publicly flogged. The usual penalty was fifteen lashes, after which the unfortunate victim had to crawl on all fours and kiss the feet of his tormentor, begging forgiveness. But when the lashes were administered to the back of the servant, nothing happened; there was no pain and no blood.
Everyone wondered what would happen now. It was known that the squire had sent other servants to fetch Feivish Henech the Hermit. The servants returned, but without Feivish. They related their story: "When we found the hermit, he was standing and praying. We called out to him, but he made no sign of having heard. I stepped up quite close to him and struck him with my whip, but it was as if it hadn't even touched him. Then I waited and tried to convince him to accompany us, but he refused to react and we had no choice, but to come without him."
The squire was in a frenzy of anger. "Saddle me a horse, and I myself will fetch this crazy Jew! Get the priest and he will accompany us." In the squire's heart was a creeping fear that the hermit might after all be a supernatural being.
When the priest heard that the squire planned to use force against Feivish Henech, he begged him, "Please, Your Honor, do not do anything against Feivish Henech the Hermit. He is a holy man and you will be wiser to leave him alone. I, myself, will have nothing to do with this foolishness."
"Aren't you ashamed? I will show you that he is merely mentally unhinged!" exclaimed the squire.
When the squire entered the study hall he greeted the Rav and the other community notables in a friendly manner, but he let them know that he was there to prove that this particular hermit who refused to see, hear, or eat was just crazy, and had nothing supernatural about him.
"You are playing with fire," they warned him, but he refused to listen.
"I have driven sense into many obstinate persons with this whip and shall now drive the nonsense out of this individual also!" With that he walked up to Feivish Henech and struck him with his whip. The whip fell out of his grasp and his hand dropped helplessly to his side as excruciating pains shot through his arm.
There was a feeling of panic in the air. The Jews feared the squire's retaliation against the entire community, while the squire's men were terrified of the hermit. They bundled up their master and ran for their carriage. Feivish the Hermit took no notice of the entire proceeding and continue to fill the hall with his exquisite singing.
The squire's pain became unbearable. He wanted to return to the hermit and beg forgiveness, but he was told that no one could approach the holy man. The doctors said there was no hope, other than to remove the arm before it poisoned the entire body.
From this time on, people in trouble tried to do something for the hermit, so that they might be helped, as a result. So it was that all the childless wives of the town gathered together and raised funds to build a study hall with special accommodation for Feivish Henech the Hermit to be called by his name.
It is an interesting fact that after this, all these childless wives bore children.
Adapted from the Memoirs of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.
Contemplate three things and you will not come into the hands of sin: Know what is above you (mimcha)...(Ethics 2:1)
According to the Maggid of Mezritch, this teaching can be interpreted as follows: "Know that what is above--mimcha--is from you." Know that everything which you receive from Above is a reciprical reaction to what you do here in this world.
Do not separate yourself from the community (Ethics 2:2)
Hillel teaches that all Jews are intrinsically one and the same. They are not just separate entities that may later link themselves together. This is why the menora in the Holy Temple was made out of one solid piece of gold, which was beaten into seven branches. The different branches of the menora symbolize the diversity and broad spectrum of the Jewish community. Each Jew shines and expresses the light of Torah in a different way. We may represent various aspects of Jewish life, yet deep down we're all made of the same substance.
(Blossoms, Rabbi Yisroel Rubin)
Set aside your will because of His will (Ethics 2:4)
When a person sets aside his own desires for the sake of heaven, whether to desist from sinful deeds or to perform positive mitzvot, he succeeds in transforming his nature. The Evil Inclination is conquered by making one's will the same as G-d's.
According to the Talmud, just as we look forward to the arrival of Moshiach, G-d looks forward to redeeming us. It may be asked, since He waits to redeem us, and we wait for the redemption, why has Moshiach not yet arrived? The answer is that this delay is intended to increase our reward. For this reason alone, G-d has not hastened the final Redemption.
(The Chofetz Chaim--Tzipita L'Yeshua)